Monday, October 12, 2009

Facing the Chinese challenge

THE RECENT statement of the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal VP Naik and that of the just retired Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta a little earlier, though presenting a grim picture of the state of the country’s preparedness with regard to its Naval and Air Defence, deserve appreciation of the nation for their bold truthfulness. They, indeed, represent a healthy departure from the general age-old Government policy of projecting a sab achcha (all well) scenario even at the worst of times, ostensibly, for preventing demoralisation and containing panic that may get set off by the truth about our state of preparedness.

In the context of the Chinese threat we will, however, have to bear in mind that in view of the nature of the terrain over which the likely war with China will be fought, the role of the air forces of both sides is going to be restricted. The jungle and mountainous terrain of the likely area of operations precludes the possibility of effective tactical air support. On the other hand, any strategic bombing by the Chinese Air Force could, perhaps, be ruled out on ideological considerations as the bombs will not be able to distinguish between China’s proletariat friends and the bourgeoisie enemies in India and could damage their ultimate cause of fomenting World Revolution. This leaves the Red Air Force with the only option of interdiction, (cutting off Indian supply lines). 

So even if China has the third largest air force in the world and India only 1/3 of that strength, the disparity between the two is not likely to prove too disastrous for India. Some under developed countries of the world possessing small air forces are, in fact, known to have carried out jungle and mountain warfare successfully against developed countries possessing large air forces. The same goes for our naval disparity with the Chinese. The navies of the two nations will come fully into play only in case of a protracted war on land spilling into the sea with the role of attacking/defending each others sea trade lanes. In the shorter version of the war, which evidently is the order of the day, India can expect nothing more that small skirmishes with China at sea. The saving grace for us in either case will be that with the trade interests of many other countries involved in the region, the naval war is not likely to remain confined to the countries engaged in the war on land. It could enlarge into a much bigger conflict, which would only be to China’s disadvantage.

Undoubtedly, the decisive force in the war between the two countries, if it comes, is going to be the Army. Consequently, any disparity in strength between the Indian and the Chinese Armies that weighs heavily against the Indian Army could have a telling effect on the outcome of the war to the extent of it proving disastrous for us. Such a situation should, therefore, be of greater concern to the nation than inadequacies in India’s air and naval strengths.

In a recent interview, our Chief of the Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, is reported to have rubbished the chances of a repeat of the 1962 Sino-India war and assured the nation that the Indian Army is quite capable of looking after and ensuring the defence of the country. While no one doubts the Army’s sincerity and the determination of its men to fight to the last drop of the blood that the Army Chief has spoken of, doubts continue to lurk whether he has said it all. Evidently there are certain facts related to disparities that Indians suffer vis-à-vis the Chinese, which though glaringly visible have not been discussed. It is for instance quite reliably known that China has deployed about 13 infantry divisions in Tibet and is capable of reinforcing its strength at short notice – thanks to its vast reserves held at the mainland and its greatly improved land communications with Tibet. 

India has, on the other hand, about half that number deployed against them with no capacity for reinforcements in view of an equally belligerent Pakistan operating all along its backyard. Besides, while the Chinese have kept their army generally concentrated at a couple of places in the rear of the Indo-Tibetan border, the Indian forces are mostly deployed all along the Line of Actual Control on a defensive role. The initial initiative, therefore, rests with the Chinese as they are in a position to strike at any time and at any place of their choosing. Against this India, apparently, has just enough strength to hold the defence line and none for launching any counter offensive to force the Chinese on the defensive. In military training, ‘offence’ is considered to be the best form of ‘defence’ and our present defensive posture against the Chinese would appear to be flawed on this account.

The question that arises is as to why we are not fully prepared to meet the Chinese threat. The alibi put out by Air Marshal VP Naik that preparation requires time would not hold water considering the fact that the Chinese threw the gauntlet at us more than five decades ago and we have not been able to pick it up till today. The fact of the matter is that over the years the will of our political leadership has wilted at the very thought of the colossal effort - involving sacrifice, dedication and hard work - required to meet the Chinese challenge and rather than facing the threat squarely it has continued to opt for a policy of, as the saying goes, letting the sleeping dog lie in the fond hope that it may not wake up on its own. Assured by such wishful thinking our defence preparations have, apparently, moved at a leisurely pace based more on convenience rather than necessity.

There is no rationale behind the national psyche though. What does China have which India doesn’t? India has an equally booming economy and is bestowed with a vast reservoir of the best fighting material in the world. Besides the effort required for meeting the Chinese threat may not be as colossal as imagined. By raising our defence expenditure from the present two per cent of our Gross National Product to seven per cent like that of China we could, perhaps, stand up to the Chinese black mail fairly effectively. What is required is the national will. We must understand that there is no alternative to facing the Chinese challenge other than surrender. Let us not be deceived by the hope that the United States will come to our rescue if China attacks. We must remember that no country will ever fight another’s war. We have the example of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Though before the war many friends of Pakistan had promised to intervene actively on its behalf none of them came forward to pull Pakistan out of the desperate situation before it was forced to surrender.

For the intellectual and the idealist in India who seems to suffer pricks of conscience over preparation for war it may be clarified that preparing for war by itself does not amount to jingoism. By remaining prepared for war we will be, in fact, only creating a credible deterrent that would dissuade our enemies from taking recourse to war for settling their disputes with us. It is not said in vain that “if you want peace, prepare for war.”

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